FarSideteachablemomentHave you ever had a “teachable moment”?  Do you think we can actually make them happen or are they totally arbitrary, unpredictable by nature?

First, let me explain by way of a story, what a teachable moment is.

When I was first teaching, I taught LINC, language instruction for newcomers to Canada. Basically, adult ESL for new immigrants. My classroom was on the 5th floor of a downtown skyscraper, all glass windows on the side opposite the board.

I was preceding with my regular lesson on “How to withdraw money at a Canadian bank”. As I was writing on the board, suddenly there was a series of loud “ooohs”, “ahhhs” and shrieks behind me. I turned around and wondered what the heck was happening. I saw 2 middle aged women jumping up and down, up and down like small kids. Their faces were glued to the glass and they began exclaiming, “Snow! Snow!” They were from Brazil and this was the first time they’d ever seen snow. It was just a few small flakes but they were overcome.

As the teacher, I really didn’t have much choice but to start teaching about snow and use the opportunity of “reality knocking” to teach about the weather and anything snow related.  The whole class just went that way and started asking questions to the women, “There is no snow in Brazil?” , “Is it what you expected?” “Have you seen snow on TV?” etc….

This was a teachable moment and we began talking all about snow, brainstorming snow related vocabulary etc…… It was a unique opportunity to harness student motivation and to connect the classroom with the real world. A real teachable moment.

A few other teachable moments I remember in my teaching career were:

1. A butterfly entering the classroom – which led to a lesson in science and entomology.

2. A mother coming into the class to ask a question – which led to us interviewing her about her new business.

3. A student’s broken arm – which led to a lesson on our own prior accidents and ways to prevent them.

Can you  create teachable moments or must they arise purely “by chance?”

Teachable moments are powerful “learning” moments (for teaching is learning). In many cases, unforgettable. A kind of student driven “Eureka”. An epiphany where you connect with the subject in ways that aren’t possible in the traditionally delivered, head on, step 1,2,3 lesson plan.  But can we try to make them happen? I believe we can and should as teachers.

I think there is a “Teachable Moment Spectrum” ranging from strict control and following of the lesson plan to a very liberal approach that seeks student “reality” as the generator of teachable moments. We don’t have to rely on chance!

teachable moment spectrum

In our teaching, we can use the reality that affects our students as a powerful source of both content and “teachability”. This to me is a manufactured or synthetic teachable moment – but powerful just the same!   Looking at the above examples –  The butterfly entering the room would be a natural teaching moment, an unmanufactured one. However, 2 and 3 are purely teacher created but teachable moments just the same.

As teachers, let’s not just rely on chance. We should actively try to create teachable moments all the time – connecting student reality to learning. In the language curriculum, the possibilities are endless, unlike the case of more “set” curriculum like science and history. Language oozes into everything and so we should let reality set the course and not the lesson plan.

Let’s take the untrodden paths more often and bring teachable moments into our everyday teaching…. you can, I assure you!